John White, who was hired in May to be the press secretary for the U.S. Department Education, has left that post and is now the deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach.
Peter Cunningham, the chief public relations strategist for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, told me that the press office was “overstaffed.” (Really? I can come up with plenty more things for them to do, if needed!)
Rural outreach is an area where the department, which has been criticized for overlooking the rural perspective on issues, certainly needs some help. And, so, White is filling a void, said Cunningham, who is officially the assistant secretary for communications and outreach. He added: “Arne’s not a rural guy. I’m not a rural guy.” (I’m not sure White, who is a former spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools, is a “rural guy” either, but lots of folks will stand ready to school him in all things rural.)
Cunningham (who is, like his boss, a Chicago guy) also said this is part of a broader strategy to improve outreach as reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act approaches. “The media is critically important, but outreach is where you build support for the agenda.”
He noted that he has department staffers who specialize in outreach to associations, to other government entities, now to the rural schools, and he’s hiring someone from Los Angeles to tackle outreach at the community level.
As a result of White’s departure from the press office, deputy press secretaries Sandra Abrevaya and Justin Hamilton have been promoted and will be sharing the title of press secretary. That also means they’re graduating from cubicle offices to a real office, although they’ll have to share it.